5 Route Data

5 Route Data

5.1 Introduction

5.1.1 The total volume of passengers, cars and commercial vehicles travelling across the Firth of Clyde between Gourock and Dunoon is clearly a key issue in estimating the forecast volumes on any new town centre ferry service and hence the revenues generated. This Chapter takes a detailed look at the trends associated with both Cowal / CalMac and Western Ferries in recent years to provide this context.

5.1.2 The focus of this analysis will be on the vehicle based market. The incremental approach adopted here means that the number of foot-passengers will always be the same in the calculation made, ie by switching from a town centre foot-passenger only service to a passenger and vehicle service for a given timetable, no additional foot-passengers would use the route (assuming that everything else remains the same, ie that there is no change in reliability, fares, frequency etc). This assumes a fit for purpose foot-passenger ferry service is in place and the revenue figures have been derived from town centre foot-passenger demand levels which precede the issues associated with the current ferry service.

5.1.3 There are two key issues which have affected travel volumes across the Firth of Clyde in recent years and both introduce significant uncertainty when forecasting future ferry volumes here:

  • the first is the impact of the ongoing economic difficulties since the economic downturn which began in 2008. As will be seen below this has led to a sharp drop in overall travel volumes between Gourock and Dunoon and this is associated with lower travel volumes in general across the country on road, rail, bus etc; and
  • the second is that the trend data since 2010 has also clearly been affected by a major change to the supply of ferry services in mid-2011 with the commencement of the Argyll Ferries foot-passenger only service.

5.1.4 In addition it is important to understand the main components of the market and this is also explored here.

5.2 Route Carryings

5.2.1 The Gourock-Dunoon route is by some distance the busiest ferry crossing in Scotland. This is illustrated in Figure 5.1 below where total passengers carried in 2011 is shown for the Gourock-Dunoon routes and all other CalMac routes in Scotland. The total Gourock-Dunoon market is highlighted in red.

Figure 5.1 Gourock-Dunoon and Other CalMac Routes, 2011 Passengers

Figure 5.1 Gourock-Dunoon and Other CalMac Routes, 2011 Passengers

5.2.2 In 2011 (the last year for which full data is available from both operators) the total combined market for the town centre service and the Western Ferries services was as follows (one way journeys):

  • 1,741k passengers (2007 peak was 1,936k);
  • 604k cars (2007 peak was 682k); and
  • 39.4k CVs & buses (2007 was 38.6k).

5.2.3 Figure 5.2 below shows the key long term trends for passenger carryings since 1992 in terms of absolute figures and also year on year percentage change.

Figure 5.2 Route Volumes 1992-2011, Passengers

Figure 5.2 Route Volumes 1992-2011, Passengers

5.2.4 Total passenger volumes therefore grew from around 1.5m in 1992 to nearly 2m in the peak year of 2007. Note though that the figures for 2007 are affected by the closure of the Rest and Be Thankful for 17 days in late October and early November of that year (ie 4.5% of the year). If 2007 figures are discarded, 2006 was the peak year for passenger volumes. Note also that CalMac Ferries services were out of service between March and June 2003 which explains the relatively large drop in that year.

5.2.5 Over this period (1992-2006) town centre (ie CalMac / Cowal / Argyll) passenger volumes were relatively stable, dropping by 8%, whilst Western Ferries passenger volumes increased by 63%. Across the two routes, total routet volumes grew by 31% to 2006, but have since dropped by 9% from 2006 to 2011, meaning that volumes are now 18% above 1992 levels.

5.2.6 Between 2006 and 2011, Cowal / Argyll boardings declined sharply (-33%) whilst Western boardings were broadly flat (+2%), with volumes across the whole route declining by 9%. Figure 5.3 below shows the same long term trends for car carryings since 1992 in terms of absolute figures and also year on year percentage change.

Figure 5.3 Route Volumes 1992-2011, Cars

Figure 5.3 Route Volumes 1992-2011, Cars

5.2.7 Total car volumes grew from around 470k in 1992 to 682k in the peak year of 2007. The 2007 closure of the Rest and Be Thankful road-based alternative route from Cowal will in part also explain the spike in car carryings seen in 2007, and this should be regarded as an exceptional year, so the 2008 figures are assumed to be the true peak in this case (660k). Note again the drop in CalMac figures for 2003 associated with a service disruption in that year. Note also that Western Ferries introduced a 20 minute service throughout the day in 2005. The other main change in terms of the supply of ferry services during this period was that in 2002, the MV Ali Cat was brought onto the town centre route to provide peak hour foot-passenger only services. As can be seen in Figure 5.4 below, this contributed to an increase in the total number of sailings undertaken from 2003 onwards. After a drop in 2003 and 2004, from 2005 onwards there were around 10,500 Streaker sailings per annum, the same figure as in 2001.

Figure 5.4 Gourock-Dunoon Town Centre Route - Total Sailings by Year

Figure 5.4 Gourock-Dunoon Town Centre Route - Total Sailings by Year

5.2.8 Over the period 1992-2008 CalMac / Cowal car volumes therefore dropped steadily by 42%, whilst Western car volumes increased by 70%. Total route volumes grew by 40% to 2008 (higher than the rate of passenger growth), but then dropped by 8% from 2008 to 2011, meaning that current volumes are still 28% above 1992 levels. Between 2008 and 2010 (the last full year of operation), Cowal / Argyll had declined by a further 14% whilst Western boardings were broadly flat between 2008-11 (down 2%) and volumes across the route declined by 8% overall.

5.2.9 Both passenger and car total route volumes therefore peaked in 2006-08 and have dropped steadily thereafter with the onset of the current economic difficulties. Car carryings between 1996-97 was the only significant negative growth in the whole period up to 2008, ie both passenger and car traffic consistently grew year on year in all these years. Since then there was a small growth in passenger volumes in 2008-09 but otherwise the picture is one of decline. Within these totals, the familiar trend of a switch from CalMac to Western Ferries is clear.

How do these trends compare to the wider CalMac Clyde network?

5.2.10 To see if the above Gourock-Dunoon trends are typical or not, Figure 5.5 below shows total Gourock-Dunoon (ie CalMac plus Western) passenger and car volumes together with the aggregated data for the wider CalMac Clyde network (ie Wemyss Bay-Rothesay, Colintraive-Rhubodach, Tarbert-Portavadie, Ardrossan-Brodick, Lochranza-Tarbert/Claonaig, and Largs-Cumbrae) for 1992-2011, indexed with 1992=100.

Figure 5.5 Gourock-Dunoon and the Clyde Network Volumes

Figure 5.5 Gourock-Dunoon and the Clyde Network Volumes

5.2.11 It can therefore be seen that total volumes on the Firth of Clyde have grown at a faster rate than the rest of the Clyde CalMac network for both passengers and cars over this long time period.

5.2.12 However it should be noted that in the last decade, both passenger and car growth rates for Gourock-Dunoon (CalMac + Western) have lagged behind the wider Clyde network (-0.8% versus +3.0% for passengers and +2.0% versus +8.5% for cars). This period includes the switch to Argyll Ferries which has been problematic due to reliability issues.

5.2.13 Even within the Clyde network aggregate figures, there are large differences though. As an example, Figure 5.5 below shows the change in car boardings for all significant CalMac routes (>10k cars in 2011) between 2001 and 2011. The routes which were subject to the pilot RET fares programme are shown in red.

Figure 5.6 CalMac Routes - Car Growth 2001-11

Figure 5.6 CalMac Routes - Car Growth 2001-11

5.2.14 The largest growth rates are therefore generally associated with RET routes. Across the Clyde network, there is a mix of growth and decline concealed within the aggregate figure and in general there has been higher growth across the West Coast network. This is explored further in Figure 5.7 below where, for further context, the trends for the past decade on Gourock-Dunoon and the Clyde CalMac network are contrasted with trends for the wider CalMac West Coast network (separating RET routes from non RET routes).

Figure 5.7 CalMac Network Trends 2001-11

Figure 5.7 CalMac Network Trends 2001-11

5.2.15 These figures confirm that volumes on Gourock-Dunoon have lagged behind the wider Clyde network since 2009 (passengers) and 2005 (cars) to some extent. On the West Coast network (ie all other CalMac routes), a pronounced spike can be seen in 2009 on the RET routes with the first full year of these cheaper fares. Since then these routes have plateaued. In general though, all routes on the West Coast grew at a faster rate than the Clyde routes in the period since 2000.

5.2.16 The period between 1992 and 2006-08 covers a period of sustained growth in terms of the UK economy, albeit the rate of growth varied across this period. During this period:

  • car carryings on the Gourock-Dunoon routes grew by 40% and passenger numbers by 26%;
    − this equates to around 2.3% (car) and 1.9% (passenger) per annum respectively;
  • across the whole CalMac Clyde network over this period (excluding Gourock-Dunoon) the average annual growth rate was 2.2% (cars) and 1.2% (passengers);
    − so during this period volumes on Gourock-Dunoon grew slightly faster than the wider CalMac network in the area; and
  • over the period 1995-2007 (comparable data for 1992-1994 is not available), Scottish total road traffic levels grew by around 1.6% per annum, so ferry traffic grew ahead of national trends during this time.

5.2.17 Note that the population of Dunoon grew somewhat during this period so this growth comes from an increase in residents as well as a propensity for people to travel more with increasing prosperity and car availability during this period.

5.2.18 Since the peak years (2006 for passengers and 2008 for cars (excluding 2007)) and the onset of the financial crisis:

  • on Gourock-Dunoon, combined car volumes have dropped at an average of 2.9% per annum and passenger volumes have dropped by 2.4% per annum on average;
  • across the CalMac Clyde network (excluding Gourock-Dunoon), the equivalent figures are declines of 1.7% (car) and 1.6% (passenger) per annum, so Gourock-Dunoon has declined at a faster pace over this period; and
  • over the period 1907-2011, Scottish road traffic levels fell by around 0.7% per annum, so ferry traffic has declined faster than national trends.

5.2.19 As such the overall trends on Gourock-Dunoon are similar to the CalMac Clyde network although the quantum of change varies somewhat. Ferry volumes tend to accelerate and decline faster than general road traffic.


5.2.20 The available data does not allow us to fully distinguish foot-passengers from vehicle based passengers. However, for forecasting purposes, it is necessary to estimate the split between vehicle based passengers and foot-passengers, as the new passenger and vehicle ferry service will clearly attract a proportion of the vehicle based passenger market (but no additional foot-passengers). As well as for this purpose, the trends with respect to the foot-passenger market are covered here for context.

5.2.21 We received specific data with respect to foot-passengers relating to Cowal and Argyll Ferries from 2005 to 2012 (no specific data relating to foot-passengers is available before this date) and this is shown below in Figure 5.8. Specific foot-passenger data from Western Ferries is not available so we do not know with certainty the exact overall size of the foot-passenger market.

Figure 5.8 Cowal / Argyll Foot-passenger Data, 2005-12

Figure 5.8 Cowal / Argyll Foot-passenger Data, 2005-12

5.2.22 This again suggests that the economic downturn from 2007 has had a significant impact. Importantly, the reductions in foot-passenger numbers precedes the change to the Argyll Ferries service in summer 2011, when despite increased vessel frequency and a longer operating day, passenger numbers have continued to decline into the full calendar year of 2012.

5.2.23 A further issue here is that McGill's buses commenced a Dunoon - Gourock - Braehead - Glasgow through service in August 2008 via Western Ferries. This was the first through bus service to operate from Dunoon - ie passengers do not generally have to disembark at either end or on the ferry and they pay an inclusive bus fare - ie they do not pay a separate passenger ferry fare. This service is also free end-to-end for holders of the National Entitlement Card and as such represents significant 'competition' to a town centre passenger service. Typical journey times are around 110 minutes from Dunoon town centre to Glasgow (although some peak hour services which omit Braehead have shorter journey times (90 minutes)). Typical Dunoon to Glasgow journey times by passenger ferry and train are 75-100 minutes so the ferry / train option does still hold a time advantage over the bus which is clearly very important for regular commuters.

5.2.24 This McGill's bus also provides a Dunoon to Gourock town centre service which would be free to Entitlement Card holders. We have no figures for the usage of this McGill's service, but there are currently 10 return crossings per weekday, nine on a Saturday and six on a Sunday, adding up to over 6,000 bus journeys per annum.

5.2.25 Holders of a Strathclyde Concessionary Travel Card do currently receive discounted passenger fares on Argyll Ferries with a fare of £1.30 return (90p single). This is an important issue as Dunoon has a higher proportion of people of pensionable age (24%) compared to the Scottish average (20%) (SNS, 2011 figures)20 therefore this represents a significant market segment and source of revenue to any potential operators via the SPT reimbursement scheme. In this reimbursement scheme, adding the fare paid and the reimbursement, total operator income is around 67% of the standard fare.

5.2.26 In 2009 and 2010 passenger carryings on Gourock-Dunoon dropped at a faster rate than the rest of the Clyde CalMac network. This may in part be attributed to the new McGill's bus service. Had Gourock-Dunoon followed the same pattern as the rest of the Clyde network in these years, passenger boardings would have been around 30k higher than they were. This broadly corresponds to a 30k drop in foot-passengers on Cowal between 2008 and 2010.

5.2.27 In addition figures from Cowal Ferries for SPT Concessionary Fares show a drop of 18.5k from 104,250 in 2008 to 85,800 in 2010 which suggest a switch from town centre ferry to McGill's bus.

5.2.28 Figure 5.9 below shows Cowal / Argyll passenger figures split by foot-passengers and vehicle based passengers. The foot-passenger figures pre 2005 are estimated, assuming the 2005 car occupancy figure of 2.16 persons per car.

Figure 5.9 Cowal / Argyll Passenger Data, 1990-2012

Figure 5.9 Cowal / Argyll Passenger Data, 1990-2012

5.2.29 It can therefore be seen that the foot-passenger market was relatively stable between 1992 and 2008 hovering around the 400k mark (although as noted above the earlier figures are estimates, worked back from assumed vehicle occupancies). By contrast, the trend for vehicle based passengers shows a steady decline.

5.2.30 As noted above, we do not have figures from Western in relation to foot-passenger numbers. However, it is possible to use the available data to make an estimate of Western Ferries foot-passengers for 2010, and hence total route foot-passenger / vehicle based passengers. The key issue here is that we do not know the number of foot, car and bus-based passengers carried on Western Ferries. We also do not know how many vehicle based passengers travel in a CV or a bus. The following assumptions have been made, leading to the figures provided in Table 5.1 below:

  • from the McGill's timetable we can estimate that there are 6,760 crossings per year;
  • national statistics suggest that the average bus loading is nine passengers, CVs can be assumed as single person occupancy;
  • STS road traffic statistics suggest that on rural roads there is an 85% / 15% split in terms of total CVs / buses;
  • we can therefore estimate the number of buses and CVs carried by each operator and thus the number of passengers carried by each vehicle type;
  • we can then deduce the passengers carried by car on Cowal ferries and apply this to Western Ferries car volumes to obtain estimates of Western car passengers;
  • we can then estimate foot-passenger volumes on Western by deducting all vehicle based passengers from the total;
  • the end result of this process is that Western held a 36% share of bus / foot-passengers and Cowal Ferries held a 64% share; and
  • these foot / bus proportions are likely to have shifted further towards Western since 2010.
Table 5.1 Estimate of Foot / Vehicle based passengers

Published Data 2010



a. Total Passengers



b. Foot-passengers


Not Available

c. Total Cars (vehicles)



d. Total CVs / Buses (vehicles)



Estimated Data

e. McGills Buses veh


f. McGills Buses pass (e * 9)


g. Other buses veh (15% of total cv / bus (net of McGill's))



h. Other buses pass (e * 9)



i. CVs (85% of total cv / bus (net of McGill's))



j. CV passengers (i * 1)



k. Car Passengers (a-b-h-j)


l. Passengers / car (k/c)


m. Car Passengers (l * c)


n. Foot-passengers (a-f-h-j-k)


Summary of estimates


373,690 (77%)

110,663 (23%)

Bus based passengers

4,909 (5%)

99,399 (95%)

Car / CV based passengers

120,629 (10%)

1,103,738 (90%)

Foot / Bus total

378,599 (64%)

210,062 (36%)

Total Vehicle Based Passengers

1,328,675 (73%)

Total Foot-passengers

483,353 (27%)


5.2.31 This 73% / 27% is used to split future total route passenger projections into foot and vehicle based passengers.

5.3 Who Uses these Ferries?

5.3.1 A series of on-board surveys (on both CalMac and Western vessels) were undertaken in 2007 (August and November surveys were undertaken so the data is a good representation across the year).

5.3.2 These 2007 on-board surveys provide a valuable data source in terms of the users of these ferry services.

5.3.3 When weighted by frequency of travel, the data suggest that around 75% of the sample of all journeys made across the two routes were undertaken by Cowal residents. The data also suggests that Cowal residents favoured Western Ferries (71% / 29%) compared to non Cowal residents others (62% / 38%).

5.3.4 As such it is useful to consider these two groups separately (ie 'Cowal residents' and 'others') in terms of their cross Firth of Clyde choices as there is evidence to support this distinction.

5.3.5 In terms of journey purpose, the 2007 surveys found that around 45% of journeys undertaken on the ferries were commuting to / from regular place of work underlining the importance of the ferries for this purpose. Some 18% were personal business, 16% were shopping / leisure, 9% were visiting friends and relatives, and 7% were on employer's business.

5.3.6 Argyll Ferries also undertook on-board surveys in 2013 and this showed that 45% of foot-passenger ferry users were travelling for leisure, 31% were commuters, 13% were travelling on business and 11% were travelling for other purposes.

5.4 Revenue

5.4.1 It is important to understand the revenues generated on the route to understand the context for potential revenue on the new Gourock-Dunoon town centre service.

5.4.2 There were / is a wide range of fare types available across the two ferry operators and we do not have a full breakdown of tickets sold by type and fare for both operators, including all the various discounts offered. In seeking to estimate the level of revenue likely to be generated by any new service, it is therefore more accurate and manageable to work back from the average 'outturn' revenue per journey made, ie the average fare paid across all the fare types which are available.

5.4.3 As such it would not be realistic to assume that the fares paid by users of any new ferry service would be the full published fare, given this evidence.

5.4.4 Table 5.2 below shows volumes, revenues and average outturn fare paid on Cowal Ferries in 2009 and 2010.

Table 5.2 Cowal Ferries Outturn Revenue per Trip

Cowal Ferries



Revenue per trip (£)





















CVs / Coaches







Total Revenue




5.4.5 Retail (£170k) and Other (£50k, mainly freight and Post Office) revenue added around £220k in each of these years. It is notable that outturn fares are well below the published standard fares, due to the widespread use of multi-journey tickets bought locally which reduce published fares by up to 50%.

5.4.6 Western Ferries published turnover (ie its assumed ticket revenue) data for the same two years is: £6.003m (2009), and £6.024m (2010). The profits noted in Western Ferries published accounts for both years was £0.9m and £1.4m respectively equating to 15% and 23% of turnover.

5.4.7 For the record, total route revenue was therefore around £7.6m in both 2009 and 2010.

5.4.8 Western Ferries do not publish any disaggregation of their total revenue figures, ie we do not know how much is generated by passengers, cars and commercial vehicles / buses separately. However, to explore this we can take the inferred average fares paid on Cowal Ferries per passenger (£2.27 in 2010), car (£5.76 in 2010) and CV / Coach (£31.48 in 2010) and apply these fares to the Western Ferries published volumes. Using these figures the resulting revenue estimates for Western revenues are 17% higher than Western's published revenue in 2009 and 2010.

5.4.9 This implies that the outturn revenue per passenger / car / cv on Western Ferries is lower than was the case with Cowal Ferries. This may reflect a higher proportion of 'local' discounted traffic on the Western route. Cowal may have attracted more occasional travel, perhaps from those unfamiliar with the area - hence paying higher, undiscounted fares. If applied evenly this would suggest that average 2010 outturn revenues on Western were £1.88, £4.78 and £26.13 for passenger, car and CV / Coach respectively. The scale of these figures was confirmed by the operator. Note also that McGill's bus based passengers and holders of SPT cards do not pay a passenger fare on Western Ferries. This will have the effect of lowering the average revenue per person carried.